Pakistan's parliament has passed a bill aimed at protecting top government leaders from contempt of court proceedings and countering the Supreme Court's efforts to pressure the premier to revive graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.
The Senate or upper house approved the Contempt of Court Bill of 2012 by a majority after a heated debate late on Wednesday night. The bill was passed by the National Assembly or lower house of parliament on Monday.
The bill is intended to save Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf from possible disqualification by the apex court for refusing to reopen corruption cases against Zardari in Switzerland.
The Senate passed the bill just a day before the Supreme Court resumed hearing of the case related to the graft charges against the President.
The Supreme Court had given the premier till today to indicate whether he will ask Swiss authorities to reopen the graft cases against the President.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry disqualified former premier Yusuf Raza Gilani on June 19 following his conviction of contempt in April for refusing to reopen the cases.
The Contempt of Court Bill will have to be signed by Zardari to become law.
The bill provides blanket immunity to top government functionaries, including the president and prime minister, for executive actions. It can also be used to launch disciplinary proceedings against a judge without such a move coming under the ambit of contempt.
The main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz walked out of the Senate on Wednesday night before the bill was approved.
PML-N lawmaker Ishaq Dar, Leader of Opposition in the Senate, said his party opposed the bill. He said lawmakers should have been given sufficient time to discuss the bill.
Dar said the bill passed by the National Assembly had already been challenged in the Supreme Court.
He was of the view that the apex court could strike down the bill.
Ruling Pakistan People's Party lawmakers Aitzaz Ahsan and Raza Rabbani too expressed reservations about the bill.
Ahsan said two clauses of the bill need to be reviewed as they were in conflict with the Constitution.
Except for these two clauses, the bill will help provide balance between the judiciary and the executive, he said.
Rabbani said the current situation demanded political and judicial maturity. He was of the view that the apex court would set aside the bill and hence it should not be pursued at this time.
Law Minister Farooq Naek told the Senate that the Constitution gives parliament the right to legislate.
"We are not against the judiciary but we respect the Constitution," he said.